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clay men - The Villages

hutch0
Date: 2007-11-09 23:35
Subject: clay men
Security: Public
Location:home
Mood:tiredtired
Music:seth lakeman
This evening, we visited with the Terracotta Army. Well, not all of it, obviously - they've excavated getting on for 7,000 separate statues so far - but the dozen or so which are at the British Museum at the moment.
They really are extraordinary. For anyone who hasn't heard of them, the Terracotta Army is a literal army of life-sized terracotta statues of soldiers, horses, musicians, servants, clerks and god only knows what else, which was buried with the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi -China's first Emperor - in about 210 BC. They were discovered in the mid-1970s by farmers digging a well and now, as I said, in the region of 7,000 statues have been dug up. I remember seeing a story about them on the news when they were discovered, but the chances of ever seeing them in the flesh seemed kind of remote, but the Chinese government has allowed a small selection of them out of the country, for the first time, I think, and the British Museum is running an exhibition of them until early next year.
In anticipation of public interest, entry is by timed ticket - you buy one to go in during a certain time-slot - and tonight at ten to eight was about the only convenient one we could get this year.
And I'm glad we did. They've got maybe a dozen soldier statues, a couple of musicians, some horses, and they're startlingly detailed. All the statues have different faces. Even the horses have individual expressions.
But what really blew my mind wasn't in the exhibition at all. The Terracotta Army was found buried near Qin's tomb, which is under a whacking great artificial hill. Apparently, there is a mausoleum structure inside this hill, and according to one historian of the time the mausoleum attempted to recreate China - I'm presuming this means a map of the country at the time of Qin's death - with rivers and other bodies of water represented by mercury and with a `sky' studded with pearls for stars.
I say `apparently' because this hill has never been excavated, and may never be, out of deference to Qin, who presumably is in there somewhere. It's been examined by passive means, and intriguingly the mercury level in the soil is fairly colossal.
Imagine that. The Terracotta Army is a work to bend the mind, and it was just put there to guard Qin in his eternal realm. The things actually inside the tomb must be beyond belief. A world of wonders buried beneath a hill in China. And nobody wants to dig it up.
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RealThog
User: realthog
Date: 2007-11-10 00:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I envy you the visit. Pam and I were at the BM after Fantasycon, but of course had no chance to see the terracotta warriors. We did notice, though, that a shop on the other side of the street is selling very convincing replicas, mainly in miniature but some (if I'm not misremembering) lifesize.

One thing concerns me, though. I'm sure that some of the warriors toured the UK some fifteen or twenty years ago. I can remember being in Edinburgh when the big exhibition of them was on (although I didn't go to it), and I'm sure I can recall friends seeing it in London, presumably at the BM. It is concerning me very considerably that this earlier touring exhibit seems to have vanished into a black hole of recent history.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2007-11-10 01:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The way the exhibition is designed, it debouches visitors directly into the shop, where there are small-scale replicas for sale, and much else that is Terracotta Army-themed.

A quick consult of Wikipedia tells me some statues have in fact been out of China before - in particular in Barcelona in 2004 and rather bizarrely at a Selfridges in British Columbia in 1981, which I was unaware of - but there's no mention of a previous UK exhibition. It's possible the exhibit you recall may have been replicas, of which some are at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. I'll check.

It's not a huge exhibition - if you were in a determined frame of mind you could storm round it in twenty minutes - but the detail and workmanship on the statues is quite startling. It's also in the old Reading Room and it was the first time I'd visited the redevelopment, which I thought, even at eight o'clock on a friday evening in November was one of London's more lovely spaces.
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RealThog
User: realthog
Date: 2007-11-10 03:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"one of London's more lovely spaces"

Too damn' right! We were most impressed by it.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2007-11-10 12:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Mighty impressive; photos don't do it justice. I hadn't realised it was so big.
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RealThog
User: realthog
Date: 2007-11-10 13:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"The way the exhibition is designed, it debouches visitors directly into the shop"

Not the shop I'm thinking of, which is on the far side of the road from the BM's entrance gates. Before Pam and I ventured into the museum itself we had a long lunch with buddy Ron Tiner on the pavement outside the pub that's on the opposite corner from the little shop I'm talking about, and we had the fun of gazing at a window packed with countless replicas of all these exciting terracotta warriors we weren't going to be able to see ...
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2007-11-10 21:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ah, I see. I think I know the shop you mean now.

How is Ron, by the way?
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RealThog
User: realthog
Date: 2007-11-11 00:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Ron is very well indeed. He's been signed up by D&C to write another book on drawing, and has kindly told them that he must have the same editor as he had twenty years ago for his perennially bestselling Figure Drawing Without a Model -- i.e., me. I should in theory be doing the first vestiges of work on this new book tomorrow, but I'm not sure if I'm going to be up to it ...
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2007-11-11 00:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Oh what it must be like to be in demand...
Seriously, say hi to Ron for us the next time you're in touch. Both Bogna and I became very fond of him at the various MicroCons, and I'm glad he's well. There was a drawing in the NovaCon art auction which was attributed to him (and don't ask, because it's late and I can't remember what it was now) and which I almost put in a bid for, but it was only attributed to him and money's tight right now.
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RealThog
User: realthog
Date: 2007-11-10 03:16 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"I think one or two of the warriors, or facsimiles thereof"

As Hutch says and you suggest, maybe they were replicas that went on tour before.

I recall very vividly the photo you mention -- quite stunning.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2007-11-10 12:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The horses are surprisingly small, maybe modelled on Mongolian ponies. But as I said, they all have slightly different expressions.

Also, what a lot of people don't realise is that the Army was originally brightly-painted. Some of the statues still have faint traces of paint on them.

Yeah, it was the mercury that really got me. Rivers of mercury flowing through the dark forever. Extraordinary.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-11-10 16:26 (UTC)
Subject: and nobody wants to dig it up?
Plenty of people want to dig it up. It's just that people who currently have the sayso are claiming deference and respect to Qin's tomb. The story of the marvels of Qins tomb is ongoing and probably will be for centuries. For now, the world can ponder the immensity of the ancient achievement while practicing [indefinitely] deferred gratification. What a useful lesson for us all!

Isn't it wonderful that you've seen them really along with the millions of others who will and still you will be in a select minority of people of the planet?! In a world of 6 billion and growing, what's a million people? Barely noticeable! Still, you got to reach back to connect with the artisans of 2500 years ago to see their individual efforts to create unique beings in clay!

That's what I call a Friday night date!
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2007-11-10 21:33 (UTC)
Subject: Re: and nobody wants to dig it up?
I think it's the fact that they're all different which really brings you face to face with those artisans - if they were all the same there would be a kind of soulless mass-produced feel to them. And you're right, it was a privilege to see them. Especially when you think that when they were made my ancestors were still painting themselves blue.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2007-11-13 00:30 (UTC)
Subject: Re: and nobody wants to dig it up?
I mentioned the exhibition to our photographer today and he said, completely out of the blue, that he'd gone to China to see the Army some years ago. He said it was one of the most extraordinary things he'd ever seen.
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pds_lit
User: pds_lit
Date: 2007-11-10 17:14 (UTC)
Subject: The tomb
I have read somewhere -I think on one of the archeology sites I frequent - that the tomb was supposedly equipped with various traps - as if the mercury vapors were not enough deter one from digging. If you would like to read further try:

http://www.china.org.cn/english/culture/229549.htm

Also this complex is now classed as a World Heritage site.
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hutch0
User: hutch0
Date: 2007-11-10 21:39 (UTC)
Subject: Re: The tomb
Thanks for the link; that was interesting reading. Regarding the traps, if I didn't know better I would say the Emperor Qin had overdosed on Indiana Jones movies.

I suppose it's too much to hope that the mercury's still in the tomb; it's sneaky stuff and tends to find a way out through the smallest of cracks, which is probably why there's so much of it in the soil of the hill. And doesn't it evaporate if you give it long enough?
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pds_lit: pic#68050537
User: pds_lit
Date: 2007-11-11 04:06 (UTC)
Subject: Re: The tomb
Keyword:pic#68050537
I think you are probably right about the mercury but I surely would not enter that tomb without full fledged body armour including a mask!
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hutch0: Alpaca
User: hutch0
Date: 2007-11-12 21:41 (UTC)
Subject: Re: The tomb
Keyword:Alpaca
And a bullwhip and a fedora...
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pds_lit: pic#68050564
User: pds_lit
Date: 2007-11-12 23:59 (UTC)
Subject: Re: The tomb
Keyword:pic#68050564
Oh Lordy, now the husband would just love that!
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hutch0: Alpaca
User: hutch0
Date: 2007-11-13 00:14 (UTC)
Subject: Re: The tomb
Keyword:Alpaca
I might even buy tickets myself...
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